On Our Bookshelves – The Phantom Tollbooth


NOVEL: The Phantom Tollbooth

AUTHOR: Norton Juster



For some books, the text and the illustrations go together perfectly. The folks at Disney can try their best, but they just can’t improve upon the work of E.H. Shepard for Winnie-the-Pooh. Alice in Wonderland has been illustrated by everyone from Salvador Dali to Yayoi Kusama, and some of the artwork has been simply exquisite…but to my mind, nothing compares to Sir John Tenniel’s originals. The Phantom Tollbooth is much the same…I can’t imagine any illustrations which would suit Norton Juster’s classic better than Jules Feiffers.’ (And to the best of my knowledge, no one else has attempted it.)


Having delighted parents, teachers, and children of all ages for over half a century now, The Phantom Tollbooth absolutely belongs in the company of Alice and Pooh. It’s that good. It’s got jokes and puns and wordplay, the aforementioned terrific illustrations, the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping to it…not recommended), Tock (a very literal watchdog), and the joy of learning, of words, of language, of math, of exploration. It turns a sunset into a symphony.


It’s a book we need today, more than ever. Where are the Princesses of Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason now? Learning, moderation, compromise, and the courage necessary to do an impossible task (with a little help from our friends): that’s what we need to restore order and start to realize how much there is to see, hear, and touch: “walks to take, hills to climb, caterpillars to watch as they strolled through the garden.” Not to mention “books that could take you anywhere, and things to invent, and make, and build, and break, and all the puzzle and excitement…” You get the picture.


Michael Chabon, Suzanne Collins, Philip Pullman, and Mo Willems are all fans, as was the late Maurice Sendak. They’re not wrong.

Buy a copy for yourself and one for your favorite child. You’ll be glad you did.


RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 5 Whistles





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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com


Lead-In Image Courtesy of Random House and Knopf for Young Readers